“A strong woman is NOT a bitch. A successful woman is NOT a hooker or a gold-digger. A compassionate woman is NOT overly sensitive and thin-skinned. And a passionate woman is NOT shrill.” – Michigan Senator Gretchen Whitmer’s 2012 letter to the Detroit Free Press.
I have been in media, public relations and marketing for more than twenty years. I have handled communications for small non-profits and national healthcare organizations. I have a degree, am accredited, sit on several non-profit boards, chair public relations committees, and have won multiple awards. Yet, no matter my education or experience level, I still encounter comments like:
“All you have to do is stand there and be pretty.”
“You sure look a lot better than the last guy.”
“Just smile and flirt a little.”
“Send it that presentation to Tricia to pretty it up.”
I’ll give the benefit of the doubt to those who made these comments. I don’t think they realize just how patronizing and damaging their statements are. They don’t realize how they completely negate all of the blood, sweat and tears I have put into getting where I am today. They don’t understand how they diminish the hard work of professional women who paved the way before me. These type of sexist remarks fuel the misconception that public relations is all about looking good, schmoozing, and (gasp) spinning. This patronizing attitude feeds the belief that it’s somehow O.K. for women in Louisiana to make an average of 67 cents to every dollar earned by a man. A recent Forbes study found female marketers will make nearly a $1M less in their lifetime than their male counterparts.
I once had a boss who insisted I “hug it out” with a female co-worker after a professional difference of opinion led to a heated exchange. Really? That’s your solution? Talk about the most awkward hug ever. In hindsight, I should have absolutely refused. I think he enjoyed it.
I’ve spoken with female counterparts who’ve shared similar stories. Are we women doing enough to establish ourselves and promote our professional abilities? Would it make a difference? It’s unfathomable to me that, in 2014, we are still dealing with this issue. I think about my young daughter and wonder if she will face the same challenges when she enters the workplace. Are we doing enough to help the next generation?
Belgium recently unveiled legislation that will make sexist insults a crime both in and out of the workplace. Violators are subject to fines. (Read more at http://www.business2community.com/human-resources/sexism-still-workplace-issue-worldwide-0813924#eLHKPm2qkPLBY26Z.99)
What do you think? Have you encountered sexism in the workplace? Should the U.S. follow Belgium’s lead? Or, should we put on our big girl panties, smile and get over it?